Irritable Bowel Syndrome is affecting more of the population in the last decade in Canada and the US than ever before. Gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea are lumped under the IBS label when other disorders such as parasites, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and H.pylori have been ruled out. Advice is often given to take probiotics and follow a low FODMAP diet but many people still don’t feel better. Uncovering the underlying reason or cause of IBS is a skill that Naturopathic doctors are very talented at. Most of the time, IBS is attributed to an imbalance or overgrowth of various bacteria and yeast strains in both the small and large intestine. Conditions such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and candida (yeast overgrowth) can be identified with specialized testing and treated, resulting in normal digestion once again.

Having Digestive Problems? Visit a IBS Naturopath in Vancouver

Naturopathic doctors are experts in gut health. While diet is a big part of healthy digestion, if the natural balance of microorganisms known as the flora contains abnormally high or low amounts of particular bacteria or yeast, IBS will not be resolved with a good diet. SIBO can be tested using an analysis of gases from breath samples and results are used to develop an individualized treatment plan. Herbs, supplements, dietary changes and sometimes pharmaceuticals are used in sequence to re-balance flora. Yeast overgrowth can be tested by blood and by stool culture. Candida is the result of multiple antibiotic use, food sensitivities, high sugar diets and sometimes unknown factors. Antifungals both prescriptive and herbal are very effective to reduce and eliminate yeast colonies once identified.

Can A Naturopath Help With IBS?

Yes! Naturopathic doctors are known for solving tough cases of IBS. Using specialized testing, the cause of IBS is identified and treated. The most common causes are SIBO, candida, H. pylori, low stomach acid and food sensitivities. Using test results to clearly diagnose the cause, well-rounded treatment plans are implemented and an expected timeline to recovery is laid out. Most protocols involve herbs, supplements, dietary changes and gut recovery nutrients to completely heal the gut lining. While probiotics are often used, sometimes it is the last supplement to take as conditions such as SIBO can worsen symptoms temporarily.

What is IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)?

The medical criteria for an IBS diagnosis is 3 or more months with continuous abdominal pain/discomfort that is relieved by having a bowel movement and/or there are changeable consistencies of bowel movements. Essentially gas and bloating with constipation and/or diarrhea. In at least 3 months, 25% of the time or more the stool is altered from normal, there is gas and bloating or mucus present. This definition does not explain why the symptoms are present, leaving patients with no concrete solutions to improve or alleviate the syndrome. Naturopathic doctors search for the root cause which often comes down to an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast.

Symptoms of IBS

IBS can feel very different from one person to the next. Abdominal pain that feels like cramping or trapped gas can present as a deep pain or as bloating. Often bloating is described as coming on throughout the day or starting after a meal or certain foods. Belching and flatulence in excess can be due the bacteria and yeast off-gassing and can be odorless or have a strong sulphuric odor. Bowel movements should feel complete and occur 1-3 times per day with similar consistency, similar to a ripe banana. IBS symptoms can be anywhere between loose diarrhea or multiple hard and small pellets. In some cases, heartburn, reflux and nausea will have the same underlying cause of IBS and can be found together.

How Dr Luis Diagnoses IBS and Digestion System Problems

After a careful and thorough history taking regarding digestion which goes back into childhood symptoms and experiences, a relevant physical exam is performed. With both physical and symptomatic information, the appropriate tests are then ordered. Most often a SIBO breath test and microbiology stool test are chosen and sometimes confirmatory yeast antibodies may be added on for clarity. With labs, history and physical examination, the appropriate diagnosis as to the cause of IBS is uncovered.

Your First Digestion Visit / Consultation

A thorough health history is very important to delve into. It matters if 20 years ago a person had a terrible food poisoning in Mexico – this could be the reason for IBS today. The most common cause of gas, bloating, heartburn, constipation and diarrhea is a microbial cause. To test the specifics, a SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) breath test and a microbiology stool test will be ordered. If H. pylori hasn’t been ruled out already, this might be added on. An at home baking soda test will also be given as homework to determine if stomach acid levels are normal. Rarely are food sensitivity tests the first approach to digestion, this may come later if necessary at all.

Follow Up Digestion Visits / Consultations

Results of the microbial tests are reviewed, diagnosed and treatment starts. This will involve supplements, sometimes prescriptions and sometimes short-term diets. Regular short appointments at regular 2-3 week intervals are very important during this phase to change protocols and evaluate response to treatment. The whole process can average about 2-3 months, with gradual relief of symptoms starting in the first 2 weeks. Some people will need annual check-ins and short cleanses to maintain good gut health, others may not.

Dr Luis’ Naturopathic Treatment Strategy for IBS

A relevant physical exam of the abdomen will provide information such as the amount of bloating, if normal bowel sounds are present and if there is discomfort along with the  location of discomfort. A discussion of bowel habits, history of antibiotic usage, history of food poisonings and traveler’s diarrhea and any other symptoms such as bad breath, acid reflux, belching and food intolerances. This information takes place on the first visit and will be used to determine the appropriate testing to order. Usually this looks like a look at the small intestine with a SIBO breath test paired with a stool culture test that analysis the flora of the large intestine. Sometimes an additional blood test is ordered for yeast antibody levels. Once results are in, the whole picture allows for an individualized treatment protocol involving preparing the body to treat, eradication of overgrown microbes and lastly healing the gut and prevention of recurrence. 

What Is Naturally Good For IBS?

Herbs are natural antibiotics and natural antifungals. The supplement caprylic acid is derived from coconuts. Since tropical environments are humid and hot, coconuts evolved to create their own natural antifungal against mold and mildew and caprylic acid is readily available in supplements to treat fungal overgrowths. Garlic is one of the best weapons against several types of infection and overgrowths including methane-dominant SIBO bacteria. Uva ursi is an excellent herb for yeast and imbalance bacteria that can also be culprits in SIBO.  Natural supplements are very effective when re-balancing the flora and should be used with every protocol for IBS.